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MANILA–The Philippine Supreme Court’s decision ordering the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to enable in voting machines the system that issues receipts to voters could potentially delay the May 9 elections by a month.
Andres Bautista, chairman of Comelec — the body in charge of facilitating smooth, honest and credible elections in the Philippines – said: “Sinasabi sa amin baka kailangan ng isang buwan (We were told we probably need one more month).”
“Maybe, we will need a few weeks,” Bautista said adding it could probably be up to first week of June.
The Comelec’s preparations for the elections were “disrupted” by the Supreme Court decision granting a petition filed by senatorial aspirant Richard Gordon barely 60 days before the big day.
Gordon said it is the right of every voter to know whether their votes are accepted by the machine correctly. This will ensure the integrity of elections, he said.
Issuing receipts to voters is a “critical and indispensable” security feature of the automated voting machine, he said.
The Comelec, on the other hand, had opted to do away with the receipt-printing as it feared this could extend the voting hours, and be misused for vote-buying or discrediting the elections by losing candidates.
But the Supreme Court said Comelec is required to enforce Republic Act 8436 or the Automated Election System Law.
Hence, the receipt-printing feature of the vote counting machines (VCMs) should be activated.
The court said if there is an objection in the law, it should be amended by Congress.
“We see no reason why voters should be denied the opportunity to read the voter’s receipt after casting his or her ballot. There is no legal prohibition for the Comelec to require that after the voter reads and verifies the receipt, he or she is to leave it in a separate box, not take it out of the precinct … The credibility of the results of any election depends to a large extent on the confidence of each voter that his or her individual choices have actually been counted,” the Supreme Court said.
“Vote-buying can be averted by placing proper procedures. The Comelec has the power to choose the appropriate procedure in order to enforce the VVPAT (voter verified paper audit trail) requirement under the law and balance it with the constitutional mandate to secure the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot,” the court added.
The Comelec, in its appeal, said enabling the system that issues receipts to voters may result in failure of elections.
The poll body noted that they understand the position of the Supreme Court which is to ensure clean, honest and orderly elections.
“This objective should not result in burning the house down and risking a failure of election, a catastrophic result that is too high a price to pay for the marginal improvement sought by the petitioner [former senator Richard Gordon]. Progress requires a sense of proportion, balance and timing,” Comelec’s appeal read.
Bautista said the possible June 9 elections “is cutting it close to June 30 when all incumbents step down. We have canvassing to do for president, vice president and senators and we need to proclaim a new president and vice president before June 30.”
“Our biggest challenge is time. We are running out of time,” he said.
On June 30 at noon, the term of all incumbent government officials including the President and Vice President will end.
With the Supreme Court decision, the machine testing has been put on hold to accommodate the new configuration which will enable the issuance of receipts.
Election law expert Atty. Romulo Macalintal took a positive view of the possible poll delay.
According to him, the period of postponement could be an opportunity for voters to reflect on the traits of the candidates, their platforms and qualities.
“The period of postponement could be used by them in analyzing or evaluating the qualities and programs of candidates and political parties which the latter had offered to the voters during the campaign period,” Macalintal said in a text message.
“With the postponement of polls, we can tell the candidates to give us a break as we now have all the time to study and evaluate their qualifications and platforms,” he added.
Churches and civic and social groups could also use the postponement as an opportunity to educate the voters regarding the dynamics of automated elections.
“Instead of blaming the Comelec, Congress or Supreme Court, let us all work together to ensure clean and credible elections and trust the Comelec that it will perform its solemn duties in accordance with the laws and in the highest interest of the public,” he said.
The Supreme Court has ordered a conduct of an oral argument following the appeal submitted by Comelec.
In its advisory, it ordered the poll body to submit its timeline and work plans to meet the May 9 deadline considering that there is little time left to prepare.